Some 80 percent of health problems today are caused by lifestyle. Yep, that’s right, can’t blame your DNA, other people or outside forces. It’s all about how you go about your daily life and the choices you make. Yet, nutrition, exercise and behavior change are not commonly taught in today’s medical schools. The field of Lifestyle Medicine is growing to understand these issues better and to educate care providers to help their patients more than telling them to merely “eat better” or “exercise more.”
But as daunting as it may sound, just a few changes can really make big differences in health.
•First, decide if you’re really ready. Where are you on the continuum: Just started thinking about it? Been thinking about it but not taking any steps? Ready to commit to making a plan?
•Second, do you have the support of your family, friends or co-workers to help you make changes to be healthier?
•Third, have you recently had a check-up with your physician or care provider? Do you have all your baseline blood work numbers from which you can gauge progress? Do you know which of your medications might affect your success? Is there any condition that you need to take precaution about? Do you know your waist circumference?
•Start with a few simple nutrition and movement changes. For example, cut back on sugary drinks and park farther away from your building entry than you normally do. Take the stairs. Eat more fruits and vegetables and less fast food. Eat at home more, and take your lunch.
•Find your favorite exercise. Walking? Swimming? Ideally, those types of cardio plus some resistance training will be your eventual goal. But at first, just move more.
And then there are the four S’s that can really sabotage your healthy efforts:
•Sleep–Insufficient sleep links to all sorts of issues now being understood in relation to weight gain, alertness and immune function. Plus, sleep deprivation doesn’t exactly put you in the mood to go run before work and can likely leave you searching for sugar to keep you going. Seven to eight hours is ideal.
•Stress–An unwanted cascade of mental and physical effects can ensue from chronic stress, especially the relationship to cortisol…but’s that’s a whole ‘nother chapter. Stress is not something you can or should necessarily avoid, but consider ways to mitigate it through exercise, meditation and social support.
•Smoking–Do I really need to say much here? Except that e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco and all the other forms of nicotine are no better. Nicotine enters the brain receptors and disrupts normal brain function.
•Sitting–Yep, you’ve probably heard it’s the new smoking as far as health goes. Avoid sitting for long stretches of time. Standing desks, regular breaks to move and standing meetings are some approaches.
Tracking progress through a journal or one of the many mobile apps can help motivate you to keep at it. There are numerous devices on the market today for recording your exercise, nutrition, sleep and vitals.
Just remember, it’s baby steps on all this. Small improvements reap big rewards in a surprisingly short amount of time.
More can be found through the National Medical Specialty Society for Healthcare Professionals.